Trypanophobia is the fear of needles. So, what does trypanophobia have to do with employment law? In August 2011, Christopher Stevens asked his employer for a workplace accommodation for his trypanophobia. A fierce legal battle ensued, as discussed below.
In 2011, Stevens worked for Rite Aid pharmacy as a pharmacist, as he had for the previous 34 years. That year, Rite Aid began requiring its pharmacists to perform immunizations and revised its job description to require its pharmacists to hold immunization certificates. Accordingly, Rite Aid told Stevens that, as a pharmacist, he would be required to give immunization injections to customers.
In response, Stevens gave Rite Aid a note from his doctor indicating he had “needle phobia” so he could not administer injections. If he did, he could experience “lightheadedness” and a “feeling that [he] may faint.” Stevens told Rite Aid his condition was a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and that he needed a reasonable accommodation.
After further inquiry from Rite Aid, Stevens’ doctor told Rite Aid that if Stevens gave an injection, he could become sweaty, have low pressure, and might faint. Rite Aid told Stevens that it was not required to accommodate Stevens and that unless he completed the training, he would be fired. Ultimately, Stevens did not obtain the certification and Rite Aid fired him.
Stevens sued Rite Aid and won a substantial award after a jury trial. Rite Aid appealed, arguing that Stevens could not perform the functions of his job and that there was no reasonable accommodation it could have given Stevens.
On March 21, 2017, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision agreeing with Rite Aid and directing judgment be entered in favor of Rite Aid. A bedrock principle of disability discrimination law is that the law covers only individuals who are are able to perform the essential functions of their job with or without a reasonable accommodation. As stated by the Court of Appeals, “employers may not discriminate against people with disabilities that do not prevent job performance, but when a disability renders a person unable to perform the essential functions of the job, that disability renders him or her unqualified.”
Here, the Court determined that injections were an essential function of Stevens’ job and since his condition rendered him unable to perform that function, he could not perform an essential function of his job without an accommodation. So, the next inquiry is to determine whether an accommodation exists which would enable Stevens to perform the duty of giving injections. On this point, the Court held that (1) Rite Aid did not have to give Stevens special medical treatment for his condition, (2) there was no evidence that Stevens sought a transfer to a position which did not require injections; (3) Rite Aid was not required to make an exemption for his job duty or to assign the job duty of injections to another employee, and (4) similarly, a transfer to a dual pharmacist location would relieve Stevens of his duty to give injections so it is not a true accommodation.
Because Stevens could not perform the essential functions of his job and since there was no accommodation Rite Aid could have given him, Stevens’ ADA claim failed.
If you have questions about the Stevens case, disability discrimination, or reasonable accommodations, contact the employment lawyers on Long Island of Famighetti & Weinick, PLLC at 631-352-0050 or on the web at https://www.linycemploymentlaw.com.